The Ocean Red Zone

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Oceans of the world are in a dangerous red zone that exceeds safe limits for marine and terrestrial life because of excessive heat. Several statements by climate scientists show heightened concerns about how this plays out, as 2023 could be a major inflection point with global warming suddenly turning much worse. For example, the recent work of Annalisa Bracco, Ph.D., Professor School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Tech, Ocean Heat Is Off The Charts – Here’s What That Means for Humans and Ecosystems Around the World, Phys.org, June 21, 2023

The backgrounder for ocean heat taking center stage includes major developed countries that haven’t done nearly enough to cool things down despite Paris ’15 commitments to cut emissions, which, in most cases. have proven to be nothing more than hollow promises, as multi-billion-dollar subsidies for fossil fuels continue unabated, no pushback for one of the most subsidized industries in the world, assuredly the most subsidized industry in the U.S.

Therefore, a question arises whether this dereliction of duty or a failure to meet Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) at the heart of the Paris Agreement, Article 4, Paragraph 2, merits an ad hoc international emergency meeting to pull out all the stops to fight global warming. After all Paris ’15 hasn’t done the job.

Two-thirds of the planet consists of ocean that’s under attack by heat-seeking missiles of human and/or natural origin of greenhouse gases, CO2, CH4, and more. There are 10 primary greenhouse gases and more beyond that. Furthermore, the oceans have absorbed 90% of global heat for far too long; it’s starting to push back, erupting throughout the planet in a preview of a climate change horror movie that’ll outdo Don’t Look Up principally because Don’t Look Up’s asteroid was instantaneous with a precise target, whereas, global warming’s a thousand cuts across the planet; it hits everywhere.

Based upon the script for Don’t Look Up (2021 Best Picture Nominee), leaders of the world should be held accountable for ignoring science, which is clearly exposed for all to see in the film version starring Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, and Jennifer Lawrence. World leaders knew but did nothing. They must have known, not the actors, but real-world leaders that attended annual Conference of the Parties -COP- climate meetings, over 100 world leaders at COP27 last year, with UN Secretary-General António Auterres warning, time and again, and again, and again, ad nauseum:The world is headed for climate catastrophe without urgent action.”

We now know that most world leaders sought photo ops, nothing more! Here’s the proof: Global emissions, the feedstock for global warming, continue setting new records every year. Only humans can control this. In May 2023, CO2 hit a new record high of 424 ppm according to Mauna Loa monthly mean data by NOAA Monitoring Lab. As a result, ocean heat is off the charts, puzzling climate scientists, wondering whether it’s a temporary phenomenon or a new era of devastating global heat sweeping the world that won’t stop. Ocean temperatures are the highest in the 40 years of satellite monitoring.

The North Atlantic had its warmest May in over 150 years, up to 9°F above normal, registered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as Category 4 “extreme” and Category 5 “beyond extreme”. Alarmingly, water temps in early June soared even higher than in May. “The North Atlantic heat wave is part of a rapid warming of global ocean waters since March that has scientists confused about the cause and concerned about its impacts.” (Source: ‘Beyond Extreme’ Ocean Heat Wave in North Atlantic is Worst in 170 Years, Boston Globe, June 23, 2023)

“NOAA said in a report last week…  it appears to have continued at a record pace during June. The chance of seeing such warm sea surface temperatures is 1-in-256,000 according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami, who said, ‘this is beyond extraordinary,” Ibid.

According to Dr. Annalisa Bracco/Georgia Tech: “The impact is breaking through in disruptive ways around the world.” For example, the Sea of Japan is a staggering 4°C above average, and Indian monsoons are way below normal strength, thus depleting South Asian crops. The marine heatwave along the eastern North Atlantic inhibits rainfall across Spain, France, England, and the whole of the Scandinavian peninsula. Sea surface temps are running 1-3°C above normal from Europe to the coast of Africa.

El Niño is starting to come into play as equatorial Pacific Ocean warm waters weaken trade winds in the tropics, affecting oceans around the world. The past three years of La Niña with cooler equatorial Pacific waters is over and no longer masking global warming.

A major contributor is abnormally low Arctic sea ice. A dark water background absorbs enormous quantities of solar radiation in contrast to ice that reflects 80-90% back to outer space. Alas, the world’s largest reflector of solar radiation has been humbled by global warming. There is a school of thought making the rounds that the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans are merging with negative implications for sea life and weather patterns for the entire Northern Hemisphere going haywire.

Dr. Bracco visited NORCE climate center in Bergen, Norway in June for two weeks to meet other ocean scientists. Warm waters across the eastern North Atlantic resulted in sunny, hot weather in Scandinavia when typically up to 70% of days experience downpours, but not now. As a result, the agricultural sector of Norway is preparing for drought conditions as bad as four years ago when they lost 40% of crop yield.

Dr. Bracco’s experience included a trip across the country: “Our train from Bergen to Oslo had a two-hour delay because the brakes of one car overheated and the 90 F (32 C) temperatures approaching the capital were too high to allow them to cool down.”

Ocean heat is hitting South Asia especially hard. Ironically, India felt compelled in 2022 to reopen >100 coal mines to meet energy demands for artificial cooling of buildings, as overloaded grids and widespread power outages hit well ahead of this year’s onslaught. Thereby, global warming brings forth a vicious Sisyphean frustration cycle, forcing humans to burn additional fossil fuels emitting more CO2 to stay cool but enhancing buildup of more heat. It’s a horrendous losing proposition, comparable to Sisyphus repeatedly trying to roll a boulder up the mountainside only to see it roll back down.

A recent CNN headline focused on human risks: Humans Approaching Limits of ‘Survivability’ as Swelting Heatwaves Engulf Parts of Asia, CNN, June 26, 2023. It conforms to a recent UN IPCC warning: “Increased heatwaves, droughts and floods are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage.” (Source: In South Asia, Record Heat Threatens Future of Farming, UN Environment Programme, June 26, 2023)

“Limits of survivability” and “exceeding plant and animal tolerance thresholds” are phrases that increasingly haunt news stories throughout the world. When does this become an emergency?

What’s the next step for the world’s political leaders? Oh yes, of course, UNFCCC COP28 convenes November 30-December 12, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), a global climate event (in oil-rich Dubai) expecting over 140 heads of state, over 80,000 delegates and 5,000 media professionals, which will be record COP turnout with more heavy-duty-brass than attended the Super Bowl. You gotta wonder how hard they’ll debate the brutal impact of 37B tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere in 2022, up 50% since 25B tons was emitted in 2000 and a 7-fold increase since 5B tons was emitted in 1950 (Source: How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters, YaleEnvironment360, January 24, 2017).

Thus far, within one human lifetime the scorecard for annual CO2 emissions is progressively 5 billion tons, 25 billion tons, 37 billion tons.

Robert Hunziker is a journalist from Los Angeles

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